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Judge in Map Case Refuses to Delay North Carolina Primary

November 30, 2021 by Dan McCue
Judge in Map Case Refuses to Delay North Carolina Primary

RALEIGH, N.C. — With a number of lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s new district maps still pending, a superior court judge has ruled in one case that there’s no reason at all to delay the state’s March 8 primary.

The lawsuit filed by Common Cause, the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and four registered voters didn’t challenge the actual lines in the state and congressional district maps recently approved by the legislature.

Instead, they objected to the process Republicans who control the legislature used to draw the maps.

The last time the legislature drew up new districts in the wake of a federal census — in 2011 — the maps led to years of litigation and were ultimately struck down as unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.

Later, the proposed fix was also declared unconstitutional, this time due to partisan gerrymandering.

In the meantime, several elections, including the 2018 midterms, were held using maps that multiple courts had said violated the law.

In response to years of litigation, the Republicans in charge of the state’s redistricting process said they decided to draw the maps without consideration of data on race or political affiliation, but Democrats in the states said refusing to consider racial data is just as bad as using it for nefarious objectives.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs assert that the race-neutral approach adopted by the lawmakers will harm Black voters by denying them the ability to vote for the candidate of their choice.

“Once again, state redistricting leaders have failed North Carolinians by redrawing voting districts for political gain and depriving voters of color of their constitutional rights to fair political representation,” said Allison Riggs, the co-executive director of Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs.

“State law requires that lawmakers first draw districts that comply with the VRA, and they simply can’t do that without considering race,” Riggs said.

The lawsuit asked the court to stop the legislature from enacting the latest iteration of the maps, and delay the 2022 primary elections so that there’s enough time to start the redistricting process over this fall under new rules. 

But Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley ruled Tuesday there is no basis to delay the elections because the maps themselves are still law and no one has ordered them to be withdrawn.

“There simply is no harm to address,” he said, explaining that under the circumstances, it would be a violation of the constitutional separation of powers for him to rule otherwise. 

Though the ruling wasn’t entirely a surprise, it did seem to fly in the face of momentum in the plaintiffs’ favor.

Only 24 hours earlier, on Monday, former Govs. Mike Easley, D-N.C., Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., Christine Todd Whitman, R-N.J., and  William Weld, R-Mass., filed an amicus curiae brief in the case.

The bipartisan group had urged the court to examine the “far-reaching impacts” of North Carolina’s state legislative and congressional voting maps, which they argue violates provisions of the North Carolina Constitution and harms democracy. 

​​“Democracy and political gerrymandering are totally at odds. Democracy demands free and fair elections for the people. Political gerrymandering requires a manipulated and rigged system against the people,” former Gov. Easley said. “And the only way to protect the people’s rights is for the courts to get rid of this manipulated and rigged system.”

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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